Saturday, November 13, 2010

Letters with Little Hats

The Bosnian alphabet is like our English alphabet with a few differences. Đ is a letter, for example, and there are several consonants that have accent-thingies or little hats: diacritical marks to the precise among you.


When I see these letters, I think, "Oh, it's a c with a little hat," but this is not how a Bosnian speaker thinks. To him, č and c are no more alike than d and b are to an English speaker. There are similarities in how you write them, but the letters are completely different. (As I learn time after time when I can't find words in the dictionary because I'm looking under the wrong letter!)

Isaac’s school is named for a poet whose name requires many diacritical marks: Musa Ćazim Ćatić. When Isaac got his Cossack-like school jacket,

we were tickled to see that even the monogramming doesn't ignore those marks.

Although I have problems with the concept that a letter with a diacritcal mark is not the same as a letter without a diacritical mark, Eleanor has it down pat. Recently I was trying to write a word she had learned in kindergarten, and I was having problems with the spelling. “Is that with a z?” I asked her.

She rolled her eyes. “Of course it’s not. ‘Z’ is like this z-z-z-z-z. Listen to this. ‘Zh-zh-zh-zh-zh.’ You write it like this.” She took the pencil from my hand and wrote ž.

To me, a z with a little hat on it. To Bosnians, and to my daughter, not a z at all.


Anonymous said...


This reminds me of the time when i tried to learn Bosnian. It was years ago and i was working as volunteer in a DUtch refugee center, where lots of Bosnian people lived.
The different forms of the c or ^z or dj, broke my tongue a lot of times, but after a while (and a lot of patience from Bosnian parents and their kids), i managed to learn a little. Now, after many years, i forgot a lot, but i promised my bosnian friends that i will come and visit them. Sarajevo will be on my visit list too, because it was one of the places i visited during Bosnian war and i am curious to see all the changes.
I will surely follow your blog and see if i can pick up a bit of the language again before summer ;)



Annette said...

Thanks for reading the blog, Nico! I wish I could hear the differences between those letters. They still sound the same to me and I confuse Bosnians because I apparently say them wrong. It's heartening to hear that I may eventually be able to learn!